Spotlight on Geopolitics

Whilst Vladimir Putin concentrates on the state of the domestic economy, minimising the negative effects of last summer’s devastating fires, president Medvedev has geopolitics and trade high on his agenda. On September 22nd Medevedev put to rest the prospect of a Moscow – Teheran axis by deciding not to sell S-300 missiles, tanks, helicopters and armoured carriers to the Iranian regime.

The move has more to do with the Kremlin’s new geopolitical realignment than with the intention to please the US or Israel. According to Vladimir Sajin, professor of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Iran has turned itself from a trade partner and ally into a strategic competitor in the European gas markets, as well as an ideological one in the Central Asian republics (collectively known as the “5 stans”: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tadjikistan).

Over the past few years, Russia has been greatly irked by the expansion of Islamic ideology and extremism in Central Asia and is now willing to work together with the US and China in order to control its further spread. For all these reasons, reneging on a 2007 Iranian weapons contract worth a cool one billion euros makes a lot of sense, from a geopolitical point of view.

Currently on a three-day visit to Beijing, president Medvedev has tried to persuade his Chinese hosts to extend assistance regarding what he calls the “comprehensive modernisation” of his country. He has also discussed delivery terms for gas and oil, as the 2015 completion of the Siberia-Pacific gas pipeline draws near. Pricing for the gas has yet to be agreed upon, because the Chinese nowadays have the option to also develop their indigenous deposits of shale gas, hitherto unexploited. The two parties have agreed to discuss pricing for Russian gas next year, when world demand is expected to stabilise some more. Medvedev’s efforts in increasing the volume of gas and oil supplies to China are seen by many analysts as a move by Russia to diversify from its main market for gas in Western Europe.

Trade with China for the first six months of 2010 amounted to 25.5 billion dollars – a volume expected to reach the yearly 55.9 billion dollar mark achieved in 2008. In a curious reversal of fortune, this time Russia is anxious to enlist Chinese companies’ help in modernising its antiquated economy. Medvedev is asking the Chinese to become more active foreign investors in Russia, in the fields of high technology and even aircraft construction. Sixty years ago, it was the Russians that helped the Chinese build Soviet-type iron and steel works, and other industrial plants usually employing tens of thousands of workers each…

Medvedev’s geopolitical agenda in Beijing includes talks about the situation in the Korean peninsula, where Russian analysts expect military tensions to flare up between the North and the South. Last but not least, Russia needs China’s cooperation in order to stabilise Kyrgyzstan, embroiled in ethnic tensions and due to hold elections in October. China borders Kyrgyzstan, which hosts US and Russian bases on its soil.

The Russian president’s recent actions are thus trying to re-position Russia to take advantage of the new geopolitical environment, one in which the Washington consensus is slowly being replaced with the Beijing one. (sources: AFP, Courrier International, Moscow Times)

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